Newington Rotarians were excited to hear about changes and an upcoming major overhaul planned for The Children’s Museum in West Hartford when its executive director, Michael Werle, served as guest speaker at a recent luncheon meeting of the Rotary.
“You can say we are doing a re-boot with the primary goal of re-dedicating the museum to its original mission that focuses on education rather than entertainment,” explained Werle. He noted that the West Hartford institution founded in 1927 is the fifth-oldest children’s museum in the country.
“We have always been committed to developing a child’s learning experience by augmenting what they learn at school and at home,” he added, noting that it’s often been said that 80 percent of a child’s learning occurs outside the school.
The museum, Werle announced, has launched an institutional initiative to build creativity, critical thinking and other vital scientific skills by integrating the fields of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts – an innovative program they call STEAM.
Utilizing this program, the staff is focused on helping kids learn and a big part of that is having activities that provide an opportunity for hands-on, minds-open and interactive experiences, an approach not always found at similar venues. Last year, the museum, its Gengras Planetarium, the Wildlife Sanctuary and its Roaring Brook Nature Center played host to more than 55,000 attendees and engaged another 70,000 students in their STEAM classes throughout Connecticut.
But the challenge of change goes well beyond its activities. Realizing that the current 60-year-old facility needs to be overhauled, Werle outlined for Rotarians the museum’s plans to move to a nearby location with a new building that will provide 20 percent more square footage and other enhancements.
Sharing artists’ renditions of what the new facility will look like with Rotary members, Werle admitted that the plan is to raise $25 million, once town approval and other conditions are met and he’s hopeful some of the funds will come from the State of Connecticut, proudly admitting that the museum has never relied on town or state funding during its long history of providing children’s programming.
When Rotary members asked questions regarding the amount of pledges that have been received, Werle acknowledged the museum already had about $1 to $2 million in informal conditional pledges.
One Rotarian quipped that the cost of the move could be more enormous than Conny the Whale, the 60-foot long life-sized replica of a sperm whale that has sat outside the museum for nearly 40 years. Visitors have climbed inside the whale made of iron and cement to get sprayed by water from his blow hole when he spouts during the summer months.
Rotarians were relieved to learn that Conny as well as the Foucault Pendulum, a classic museum exhibit, which hangs 45 feet from the tip of the museum’s glass spire to the lowest level of the museum and was a gift from the West Hartford Rotary, will make the move to the new location.
Anyone interested in learning more about the museum’s relocation plans can contact Werle via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.